GTI first for performance

The perfect blend of power and finesse.
The perfect blend of power and finesse.

CETHANA, Tasmania is regarded as the world’s most exciting long tarmac rally stage, its 38km an endless flow of bends, corners, hairpins, climbs, crests and dips that could have been designed as a playground for Peugeot’s new 208GTi.
Not for nothing does the neat little hatch have a lion badge on its bonnet; it’s got a lot more roar than its petite looks suggest, with handling to match.
We drove one in Targa Tasmania, billed as the ‘world’s ultimate tarmac rally’, where the 1.6litre turbo motor was nearly always in high-rev territory, and finished Cethana and the other equally demanding 38 special stages without a moment’s drama.
It’s a refreshing hottie, a proper driver’s car, devoid of electronic engine and transmission modes and go-fast stripes; you just use the accelerator to match your level of aggression, and the car’s 153kW (up 6kW from last year) and 300Nm provides plenty of muscle.
At full chat, even an upshift to fifth or sixth comes with a shove in the back. But drive it like a nanna and it’s quite happy chortling along at low revs, where it rewards pussyfoot driving with exceptional fuel economy.
We used up to 14.7litres/
100km on daunting second- and third-gear uphill terrain like the Queenstown stage, but achieved 4.2litres/100km on some transport routes between the special stages. Our average for the more than 2000km of Targa was a fabulous 7.7litres/100km and would probably have been about 5.0 without the hard driving sections.
The fiery, firm-riding little three-door Pug, priced at about $31,000, is also highly civilised, comfortable, easy to park and has generous accommodation.
It will seat four adults, has a big boot, expandable from 311 to more than 1100litres, and comes with all the infotainment and associated equipment du jour.
The dash is in piano black with red highlights, and it’s especially stunning at night.
The body-hugging seats are in cloth and leather, the small flat-bottom steering wheel has a redline at top dead centre, there’s a central touchscreen, dual-zone aircon, six-speaker audio system, satnav, cruise control, auto-on lights and wipers, Bluetooth and rear parking radar, but no reversing camera.
The cubby is small, likewise the cupholders, but the door panels will hold a couple of bottles.
It has quite a tall driving position, so that the driver looks over the steering wheel at the instruments.
The six-speed close-ratio transmission has an alloy gearknob and smooth clutch, and the brakes and suspension are the work of Peugeot Sport. Tres bon!
The car runs on 17-inch alloy wheels shod with fat, low-profiled Michelins and the grip levels are astounding. The 208 retains its composure and is so planted in corners that in pictures, it sometimes looks as if it’s parked.
Drop it down a cog or two as you enter a corner and it powers out like a torpedo, with a snarl of delight from its exhaust. There’s no wheel-spinning, no under or oversteering, just a supremely efficient transfer of power to the road.
It revelled in stages like Hellyers Gorge, the Sideling and Mt Arrowsmith, where several less confident cars came to grief, and behaved like a French aristocrat when we reached the many towns and cities along Targa Tasmania’s long route.
Our car was in standard trim, just as it comes from the showroom, but it was more than a match for many modified and much pricier machines.
Verdict: A charming, easy-to-live-with practical hatch that you can take to track days and make eyes pop.